Top 10 with a Twist: Super Bowl contenders
With three weeks left in the regular season, now is the perfect time to discuss Super Bowl contenders.
With three weeks left in the regular season, now is the perfect time to discuss Super Bowl contenders. We know who the real favorites are going to be, and we're still far enough out that if we wanted to throw in a joke about the Jets making a postseason run, it technically could happen.
We’ve broken it down into two easy categories: why the team will, and why the team won’t. Unfortunately for 90 percent of the squads on this list, a Super Bowl championship is not in their future (and if I miss 10-for-10, boy, that’s going to be embarrassing). But for one team, the next two months are going to be awfully awesome. Try to figure out which one it'll be.
10. Colts -- Why they will: Although Andrew Luck is tied with Drew Brees for the league league in interceptions with 18, Vick Ballard was an unknown rookie running back before this season, and Reggie Wayne was too old to accomplish anything special, the Colts have figured out how to win during a season of unreal highs and heart-dropping lows. Why they won’t: Indianapolis has mostly feasted on the weak teams. With the exception of the Packers in Week 5, all of the Colts' victories have been against inferior opponents. There won’t be a weak opponent to face in the playoffs.
9. Seahawks -- Why they will: Pete Carroll has done an awesome job turning around this franchise, and Marshawn Lynch has turned himself into one of the most dangerous running backs in the league. Oh, and that rookie quarterback isn’t bad, either. Beating the Packers in Week 3, no matter how illegitimate the final call was, said a ton about this team -- and about that defense. Why they won’t: Russell Wilson has had a solid year, but Seattle will need an elite quarterback to make a difference. Wilson isn’t there yet.
8. Ravens -- Why they will: Well, you have to figure that without the recently-fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the Ravens finally will give the ball consistently to Ray Rice. And though that defense is aging, how much lift will be provided (emotionally, at least) if Ray Lewis were to take the field after his torn triceps from earlier this season? A ton. Why they won’t: Do you trust quarterback Joe Flacco to play elite ball for three or four games straight against the best the NFL has to offer? I don’t.
7. Falcons -- Why they will: Look, there’s a reason why Atlanta won its first 10 games. This is the most potent Falcons passing attack since they drafted Matt Ryan, and they don’t allow many points to be scored. It’s clear that coach Mike Smith, with four 10-plus win seasons in the past five years, has effectively turned around this franchise. Why they won’t: Their loss to the Panthers last week was horrendous, and their defeat to New Orleans in the Week 11 doesn’t look so good, either. Until Atlanta makes a deep run in the playoffs, it’s tough to take the Falcons seriously as an elite team.
6. Giants -- Why they will: At 8-5, the Giants aren’t even assured of winning the NFC East, And even though they’ve won two of their last five games, it’s about the right time for New York to make its annual playoff push. And, really, their past late-season exploits is the only reason they’re this high on the list. Why they won’t: It has not been a great year for Eli Manning, and the offense is fighting through some injuries. The defense is fine. But if Manning doesn’t start playing like the Eli Manning of old, you can forget New York defending its Super Bowl title.
5. Packers -- Why they will: When Aaron Rodgers is leading your team, you’ve always got a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs. Why they won’t: They’re simply not as good as they were in past years. The defense isn’t that great -- though I do like the secondary -- and there’s no running game. Even when the team is winning, it’s not looking dominant.
And now the teams I think really can win the Super Bowl:
4. Texans -- Why they will: Since the beginning of the season, I’ve touted the Texans as my AFC title favorite, mostly because the defense under Wade Phillips has been so good the past couple years and because Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are one of the scariest offensive threesomes in the conference. Why they won’t: The Patriots dominated Houston last week, leading to questions about whether the Texans are ready to move into that elite category. And because the Texans' defense has been underperforming lately.
3. Broncos -- Why they will: The Broncos, led by Tim Tebow, played well enough to win the AFC West title last year and overtake the Steelers in the playoffs, but this squad is so much better with Peyton Manning in charge. Plus, that defense is still a top-five unit. Why they won’t: For as awesome as Manning was in Indianapolis, he still only has one Super Bowl title to his credit. Also, narrow wins lately against the Chargers and the Chiefs don’t inspire much confidence.
2. 49ers -- Why they will: They’ve got the scariest defense in the league, especially that linebacker tandem of Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. With Frank Gore and an interesting quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, this team is the 49ers' best hope for a title since the Steve Young years of last century. Why they won’t: Kaepernick will have to play amazing in order for the 49ers to compete in the later postseason rounds. We still don’t know if he can do that consistently.
1. Patriots -- Why they will: Year in and year out, no matter the personnel, what other team in the league can you always count on to make a postseason run? Nobody but New England. As long as Bill Belichick is the coach, I don’t see any reason why that will have to change. Why they won’t: The defense is better than last season, but it still isn’t great, particularly the secondary. But you know what? The defense was one of the worst in the league last season, and New England nearly won the Super Bowl, anyway.
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